North Dakota Legislators Try to Bail Out the Dying Coal Industry While Penalizing Wind Energy

Greenwashing, corporate welfare, and bailouts are the themes of a flurry of coal bills in North Dakota’s 2021 Legislature.

This story was adapted from Dakota Resource Council’s newsletter.

A major theme of the 67th North Dakota Legislative Assembly was the bailouts and corporate welfare being offered to the coal industry. There have been a significant number of bills brought forward by Senator Jessica Bell, who is employed by North American Coal Company. Many other coal bills have had multiple sponsors and support from North Dakota legislative leadership. Another major theme this session is the attempt to greenwash North Dakota by continuing to push forward the oxymoron of “clean coal.” Dakota Resource Council estimates that 22 coal industry bills were introduced this session.

“Several of the supporters of these bills appear to have more concern for the nostalgia of coal’s legacy than common sense and fiscal responsibility.”

What this shows us is just how desperate the coal industry has become as it gets increasingly difficult to compete economically without government intervention. North Dakota participates in an interconnected grid system and is influenced by electricity market forces outside of its control. Too few legislators seem to understand that if the rest of the country no longer wants coal energy, then as an energy exporter, North Dakota must accommodate consumer preference. Several of the supporters of these bills appear to have more concern for the nostalgia of coal’s legacy than common sense and fiscal responsibility.

Many of the bills funnel funds to the proposed Project Tundra, which utilizes carbon-capture technology that has been proven to be technically and economically unfeasible. Carbon-capture projects around the world have consistently over-promised and under-delivered, and that is what we see on the horizon for North Dakota if Project Tundra is built.

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There are still several bills in play, but three very concerning ones are HBs 1380, 1412, and 1452. These three bills combined give a total of $160 million of taxpayer money to the coal industry in one way or another. HB 1412 offers a 60% tax break over five years directly to the coal industry, impacting state funds. HB 1452 is a greenwashing bill that creates a “clean sustainable energy authority” focused on “low-emission technology” that basically serves as a fossil fuel slush fund. The voting members are almost entirely represented by the fossil fuel industries and the“clean sustainable energy authority” is given $40 million in HB 1452. HB 1380 creates a stream of money from the legacy fund for another $40 million every two years. This is not what the legacy fund was intended for, nor is it moving North Dakota toward a sustainable future.

Finally, to end on a positive note, two very bad bills were killed before crossover and were major wins. HB 1292 outlined a process that would make it even more difficult to close power plants, requiring companies to remain open for three years and provide reliability studies, evidence for closure, and conduct public hearings. It appeared that the public service commission may have even had the authority to deny closure—a completely anti-free market policy and venturing on state-sponsored socialism for coal. Another bill that was killed was HB1458 which would have taxed the wind industry in North Dakota at 50% of the production tax credit and given it to coal. HB 1458 generated quite a bit of buzz and was withdrawn after the committee hearing.

Learn more:

Rural Grassroots Organizations Call for Sweeping Rural Electric Cooperative Reforms in 2021

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